Tech

How to banish your ex from your digital life

Aug. 12, 2011 at 3:58 PM ET

Paul Iddon /

By Alan Henry

Lifehacker

Breaking up is hard to do, but once you have the time and the distance to recover, you often realize you made the right decision. The catch: in an age when Facebook, Twitter, smartphones and IM, everything from text messages and tagged photos will remind you of your ex. He'll appear as a "suggested friend," she may call or text you for odd reasons or you could just run into your ex virtually, commenting on friends' Facebook posts, Google+ updates. Here's a service-by-service guide to giving yourself the breathing room you need to move on.

All of these tips are a drama-free, quiet way to give yourself space without bringing up old issues or alienating friends. In some cases, you'll be better off unfriending, decircling, blocking and completely cutting those digital ties. Whether your goal is an etiquette-be-damned removal from all your digital haunts or a less dramatic suppression, the tips below will banish your ex from your digital life.

You probably don't need to block your ex from all of the services covered below, so if you have a specific digital bucket you want to hide him or her from, you can jump to a specific section below.

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Facebook

Brave souls will just say "unfriend your ex and move on," but if the two of you have a lot of mutual friends or you're both avid Facebook users, that may seem like a step you don't want to take, especially if you want to be cordial or even friendly after your breakup. That doesn't mean you have to see everything he or she is doing now that you're out of their life, however.

Facebook allows you to "Hide" a user, meaning their updates and likes won't appear in your news stream. Just click the X that appears when you hover over a person's status update and click "Hide all by" that person. It works if you only check Facebook by mobile device or some other client, but unfortunately the "hide" feature only stops the person from showing up in your news stream. It doesn't stop them from tagging you in posts, sending you Facebook messages or showing up in the sidebar as a "suggested friend."

The previously mentionedEternal Sunshine extension for Google Chrome gives you the power to block a specific Facebook user's updates and profiles from view, which removes them from your timeline, suppresses profile photo updates and sidebar suggestions, removes them from your chat list and more.

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Twitter

Twitter can be a bit difficult. The web site and most Twitter clients allow you only to follow, unfollow and block someone. If you don't want to unfollow someone because you don't want to create drama, then you definitely won't want to block them (which unfollows them if you follow them and then stops them from being able to see your status updates.) So how do you free yourself from being nagged every time they update, or every time they converse with someone else you're already following?

Thankfully, a number of Twitter clients support "muting" a user, or support "global filters," which won't unfollow them, but does stop you from seeing their Twiter updates. Tweetdeck, Seesmic Web, and DestroyTwitter on the desktop all support the ability to either create custom filters or mute individual users. On the mobile side, Twicca for Android and Echofon for iOS both support filters as well.

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If you want to take this to the next level or don't want to give up your favorite Twitter client, sign up for Proxlet, a web service that connects to your Twitter account and gives you a series of proxy scripts you can configure to mute users, hashtags, or even apps entirely. If your ex likes to post where he or she has been on FourSquare, you can block FourSquare posts, or you can just block him or her entirely. You can set the block to expire after a series of time, or forever. When you're finished tweaking your stream, use the service's Chrome extension to filter the Twitter page automatically, or use the proxy URL Proxlet gives you in your favorite Twitter client for the filtered version of your stream. Proxlet currently supports TweetDeck on the desktop, the official Twitter client for iPhone, and Twidroyd and Seesmic for Android.

In most cases, the filters will only suppress updates to your Twitter stream, while mentions and direct messages will remain intact. You can, however, set your Twitter preferences to not email or text you when you get a direct message or when someone mentions you, or tell Twitter to only send you a text message or email when users you select send you messages. Neither option lets you exclude one person or a few people, but it gets the job done regardless.

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Google

Google+ actually makes the process of adding someone to your circles but then subsequently having nothing to do with them very easy. Since Google+ is so new, it's very likely that you'll be able to get away without adding anyone to your circles that you don't want to – after all, there's no real obligation to add someone to your circles just because they added you, but like Facebook, even people outside of your circles can mention you in posts and send you messages asking why you haven't yet.

The solution here is, if you want to avoid drama and add your ex to your circles, just create a circle for them and anyone else you don't want to read, add them to that circle, and just avoid it. If you prefer, you can even create a "reading" circle where you add everyone you want to read and interact with. Then bookmark that circle, and you'll only see updates from the people you care about without the bloat of the people you don't want to read, or all of the updates from the ex you just want to forget about for a while.

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Email

Email is probably the easiest platform to control. Since you have control over your mailbox, you have control over what you see and what you don't see. You can be aggressive and set up a canned response to fire back at your ex whenever they send you an email, but that's probably more aggressive than you want to be if you just need some space.

If you're a Gmail user, you may already be familiar with Gmail filters, but if not, now is a good time to set one up. Find a message from your ex and click "More" at the top of the window. Select "Filter messages like these," and you should see the beginnings of your filter already created, with the "From" line populated with your ex's email address. If not, just put his/her address into the From field, add any exceptions you want, and set your filter to mark items as ready and archive them. That way they're not deleted in case you need them for something, but you'll never see them (unless you purposefully go to All Mail) and they won't hit your inbox.

If you don't use Gmail, or if you use a desktop client, almost every major application or service has a way to set up mail filters. In Thunderbird, for example, "Message Filters" is available in the Tools menu. In Apple Mail, "Rules" is available by clicking Preferences in the Mail menu. Usually you'll find mail filters or rules in the tools or preferences menus of your favorite app, or in the account settings of your favorite webmail service.

Set up a mail filter to archive or immediately move messages from your ex out of your inbox and mark it as read so you don't dwell on it or see it, and move on with your life without fear that your inbox has a bomb waiting to go off the next time you look at your email.

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Instant messages

Almost every IM client for every platform allows you to block users from sending you messages. Add your ex to your block list, and not only can they not message you, they won't be able to see that you're online. The obvious loophole here is that everyone else will be able to tell you're online, and if they tell your ex, or your ex is smart enough to just create another account and add you to the buddy list, they'll be able to tell that you blocked them.

Thankfully, you have a couple of options. To remove the "he or she created a new account and found out your blocked them" problem, set your IM client's privacy settings to only show your online status to people on your buddy list. It'll prevent others from discovering your screen name and sending you a message randomly, but odds are you wouldn't want that anyway.

If you use the open-source chat application Pidgin and want to take this a step further, try the previously mentioned Pidgin Privacy Please plug-in. Pidgin Privacy Please was built to block IM spam, but you can use it to filter out specific users' IMs so every time your ex IMs you it's suppressed without you seeing it. You can also set up auto-responses so every time he or she sends you a message it looks like you're away.

 

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Text messages and phone calls

If you and your ex both agree that the best thing to do is to not contact each other for a while as you both get over things, you won't have to worry about them calling to complain about work or drunk texting you at three in the morning. Then again, if you want to guarantee the distance you need, take matters into your own hands and make sure you're not denied a good night's sleep because of a midnight phone call or text message.

Some wireless carriers in the U.S. allow you to selectively block calls or SMS messages from certain numbers. Check with your wireless carrier to see if they have tools that can help: they usually do, but you'll have to log in to their account management page to get to them. Similarly, if you have a smartphone and a Google Voice account, blocking calls and text messages with Google Voice is very easy. Even if you use Google Voice only for voicemail, you can quickly block callers so when they call you, they're not allowed to leave a message — instead they hear a standard "this number has been disconnected" announcement, sure to drive away telemarketers and exes alike.

Hearing that disconnected announcement once is likely enough to make anyone stop calling you, but if you continue to get text messages, there are apps that can help you out. iPhone owners with jailbroken phones can use iBlacklist to suppress unwanted calls and text messages entirely. Android users can use apps such as PrivacyStar and Handcent SMS to selectively block messages from contacts or specified numbers, and apps like DroidBlock and Mr. Number (formerly Automatic Call Blocker) to block calls without using Google Voice.

For more tips, check out our guide to blocking unwanted calls and our guide to blocking unwanted text messages from your cellphone.

A psychological note

Technology can only help you so much here. While we wholeheartedly encourage using apps and utilities to give you some space from an ex, especially if you split up on bad terms or he/she was abusive to you, we don't recommend being passive-aggressive about it.

For example, setting up a mail filter is great, but setting up a canned response to shoot a nasty-gram back to your ex if he or she emails you, even for innocuous reasons, is a bad idea and doesn't help matters at all. Using an app like Pidgin Privacy Please to suppress IMs from your ex is one thing, but using it to send them an auto-response telling them you hate them is a bad idea as well. Use these services to give yourself some healthy distance and the time to get over and on with your life, not as a way to exact your technological revenge.

At the same time, all of these tools don't have to be applied to an ex that you'd rather not interact with or read about on the web. You can just as easily use all of these tools to shake an annoying friend or co-worker who just won't leave you alone, or a salesperson who won't take no for an answer. Also, everything here is easily reversible, so if you and your ex make amends or at least decide to be friendly to one another, you can back out of the changes when or if you feel comfortable letting them back into your life.

If you've been down this road before, share your experience and best methods for drama-free digital divorce in the comments.

You can reach Alan Henry, the author of this post, at alan@lifehacker.com, or better yet, follow him on Twitter.

 

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